When you accept a ride home from a mad scientist with green hair and covered in fake blood, you have to be a little dense if you think it’s going to be an uneventful ride. We’d already dropped off my future employer who had been crouched in the trunk (it was one of those two seater mini cars) and we were whizzing across Ponte Garibaldi when it happened: my knees were inexplicably colliding with the dashboard and suddenly we were stopped in the middle of the tram line. “I guess we’ve had an accident,” said the mad scientist.

Let me back up.

Laurenissima is an ongoing series of posts about how I moved to Italy (and stayed). Click here to start at the beginning.

I really wasn’t in the mood for a Halloween party. I was in a bit of a slump in general in those days (the beginning of my third winter in Rome). I’d moved in with the pilot (introduced in Laurenissima 16) in the hopes that this would solve our problems (“maybe we’re just fighting a lot because we aren’t together enough!”), I had lost my tour guide job with Larry (Laurenissima 19) and was back to teaching English and constantly questing the futility of my attempts to remain in Italy. That fateful Halloween eve I was weighing my options between watching Sex in the City in my PJs alone since the pilot was out all night flying planes or scraping together some sort of costume and making my way to Trastevere to meet a bunch of masked strangers.

Unearthing an old tube of white face paint is what did it. The decision to go to this party would literally change my life in ways I wouldn’t understand for years. And it all started when I met a guy with a costume as esoteric as my own.

I went as the Little Match stick girl from the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. She’s the one who goes out to sell matches in the snow and eventually freezes to death (nice one Hans). I chose it because I could simply put on an oversize white button up, tuck some matches in my front pocket, paint my face white and say, “I’m the dead child from that unbelievably tragic story. You know the one?” Nobody guessed my costume and a scary number of people had never even heard of Hans Christian Anderson (probably these were all the well adjusted people).

The Little Matchstick Girl.

The party was on the roof of a building that seemed to be squatting in the centre of a parking lot somewhere beyond Trastevere train station. In retrospect it seems impossible that it was a legal residence but that was hardly my concern. I made my way through the desert of cars and asphalt toward the oasis of partying before me, got inside, grabbed a beer and after meeting a few vampires, found my self in front of a guy wearing a long black coat, a bowler hat and a mask with the image of a green apple glued on it. “You’re that painting,” I said eloquently.

“Magritte.”

“That’s the one.”

“Nobody has guessed that so far,” he said. “And you’re… that frozen kid from the fairy tale?”

So we understood each other.

Magritte’s “Son of Man”…. otherwise known as my future employer.

Turned out he’d also worked for Larry once upon a time before and eventually started his own boutique tour agency in Rome. We talked about guiding, being a foreigner in Rome, moving to Italy, Larry’s weirdness … most of the substance of our conversation has faded but I remember it was easy and entertaining speaking to this total stranger dressed up as further strangers. All the recent fights with the pilot, the misunderstandings, stood out in stark relief against the effortless banter with this masked man. I had the uncomfortable feeling I’d been experiencing all too often in recent months, that a voice was whispering to me: “Admit it, you’re not happy,” and that I was stubbornly refusing to believe.

The one thing about Magritte that was definitely throwing me off was his friend. He was dressed as some sort of scientist in a lab coat covered in blood and he was wearing a long lime green wig. I couldn’t tell when he was joking or being serious and it was unnerving me – something I now know, (having been friends with the mad scientist for years) is his quintessential mode of being. At the end of the night, when we were all getting kicked off the rooftop by a sexy nurse with a syringe through her neck who wanted to go to bed, he offered to drive everyone home and I thought well, he might be a weirdo but a ride is a ride.

We’d dropped off Magritte and now found ourselves stopped on the bridge in front of the Tiber Island with another little smart car beside us now sporting a dented fender. He always tells the next part best: “I got out of the car to speak to the other drivers and they gasped. I was covered in blood. Fake blood. But they didn’t know that.”

I, on the other hand was having a different kind of panic attack. Now the police would be called and perhaps identity cards would be asked for and it might come out that I had no legal status in the country and questions might be asked and I might be detained and I might be deported. Seemed unlikely but in the middle of the night when all you have to hand are a few matchsticks, everything seems more dire. I had to get out of there. I whispered all of this hurriedly to the mad scientist and essentially ran off into the night, little frozen ghost child that I was.

As I walked down the shadowed sidewalk beside the Lungotevere, I thought well, guess I’ll never see those guys again.

But I was wrong.

In a month the mad scientist would ask me to write a statement for a judge saying the accident wasn’t our fault and in four months Magritte would offer me the job that would change everything for me in Rome. I would get back into tourism, back into guiding, find a reason to stay in Italy when it was looking less and less like the right decision, and ultimately meet the love of my life. And all because I decided to go to a Halloween party.

Do you have a moment like that? Where you can look back, focus in, and see the crossroads that led directly to where you are now? Or do you think that no matter what road you take, eventually it will lead to the same places?

To be continued…

3 Comments

  1. Pingback:Laurenissima 21: Umberto's Miniature World or Surviving Lockdown -

  2. Pingback:Laurenissima 19: Guiding through the Dolce Vita -

  3. René Magritte could easily have added his “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” to his “fils de l’homme” or son of man. That way you can combine the two for an entirely different effect. Surely one of you might have a Sherlock Holmes type pipe?
    Anyway, loved it!

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